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Plasmonic Nanostructures Could Prove a Boon To Solar Cell Technology

samzenpus posted 1 year,14 days | from the brighter-and-brighter dept.

Earth 107

Zothecula writes "Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found a way to harvest energy from sunlight more efficiently, with the help of so-called plasmonic nanostructures. The new findings suggest that plasmonic components can enhance and direct optical scattering, creating a mechanism that is more efficient than the photoexcitation that drives solar cells. The development could therefore provide a real boost to solar cell efficiency and lead to faster optical communication."

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Plasmonic nanostructures (4, Funny)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864643)

Someone's been spending too much time reading "The Big Book of Star Trek Technobabble".

Re:Plasmonic nanostructures (4, Funny)

SJHillman (1966756) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864721)

Nonsense. The summary doesn't once mention tachyons OR reversing polarity.

Re:Plasmonic nanostructures (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44864811)

They got really wordy to say that they can increase the effective surface area with really small objects.

Re:Plasmonic nanostructures (3, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865921)

But that's not all the article said; it isn't just more surface area, but with plasmonics tuned so that electrical resistance is lower and the maximum number of electrons can get knocked loose by a photon.

Don't expect a physics class in a magazine article, but for someone not in the field wikipedia will do. I looked up plasmonics before reading the article and it made the article a lot more informative.

Re: Plasmonic nanostructures (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865649)

I'm for anything that will help repell Kardashians. er, Cardassians.

Re:Plasmonic nanostructures (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | 1 year,14 days | (#44866451)

Well, there was that bit about "reconfiguring the main deflector dish"...

Re:Plasmonic nanostructures (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865617)

We're only a few steps away from Crystallic Fusion.

Re:Plasmonic nanostructures (0)

moteyalpha (1228680) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865711)

I was going to submit an article for slashdot about solar energy and this seems to work just as well. I was wondering if a woman could be the new genius like Nikola Tesla. There is a video on this web site solar energy [moteyenergy.com] that describes a device that converts solar energy directly to electrical energy without any semiconductor materials at all, very cheaply and efficiently and could be manufactured by anybody. It seems correct, but I am really confused because it don't think it could be that simple, but the physics seems to be correct as far as I can tell, but I was hoping that somebody would tell me, what is the catch? It doesn't use any new coined terms like nano molecules or quantum ultralight so it has to be wrong? I saw an April fools edition of an electronics magazine that got me , which showed how to make solar cells on a cookie sheet in the oven for ten cents or something.
It is a bit like a female version of "Bill Nye the science guy" but does explain the principle eventually. So is it real or is it PONIES!

Re:Plasmonic nanostructures (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866041)

More silly solar non-sense. When ever someone mentions Bill Nye, I reach for my first grade science book. Damn SD news for kids should be the new motto.

Re:Plasmonic nanostructures (1)

mcgrew (92797) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865845)

Penny? Is that you?

Somebody doesn't like to learn. [wikipedia.org] If you read just a little of the wikipedia article about plasmons you can figure out what a plasmonic nanostructure is.

Orgasmic what? (1)

sycodon (149926) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864745)

...I really need to stop drinking on Mondays.

This has got to be the 37th amazing improvement (2, Interesting)

fredrated (639554) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864781)

to solar technology. Call me when one of these finally hits the shelves.

Re:This has got to be the 37th amazing improvement (3, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864913)

They do, all the time. Why do you think the cost of solar has decreased by 90% over the last 30 years?

Re:This has got to be the 37th amazing improvement (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865021)

He's too concerned with NOW than to look at the big picture an realize how far we have come.

Re:This has got to be the 37th amazing improvement (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865635)

Chinese Solar Subsidies:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-08/chinese-zombies-emerging-after-years-of-solar-subsidies.html

There really have been a lot of exciting solar findings in the last year or two that seem far from reality. I too would love to see them in production.

Re:This has got to be the 37th amazing improvement (1)

icebike (68054) | 1 year,14 days | (#44867811)

I've noticed several such huge leaps in efficiency in solar cells, many claiming as much as 50% increase.
Some are probably impossible to manufacture, others are mutually exclusive, but take as a whole if you combined them all you would think we were asymptotically approaching 100% efficiency.

Yet even the best hover under 45% efficiency. [wikimedia.org]
While that is nothing to sneeze at, commercially available solar cells (as of 2006) and system technology leads (at best) to system efficiencies between 5 and 19%.

Re:This has got to be the 37th amazing improvement (2)

Bender_ (179208) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865719)

>They do, all the time.

In fact, they never do at all! If you look at the market statistics, you will notice that >80% of the market is crystalline silicon. And while there are different ways to manufacture crystalline silicon solar cells, companies have been extremely reluctant to introduce new technologies. In fact, almost all solar cells today are still made with the same manufacturing process steps as 10 years ago. Conversion efficiencies have improved simply by tweaking these process steps.

>Why do you think the cost of solar has decreased by 90% over the last 30 years?

I know why the cost has decreased
- Manufacturing cost reduction by scaling effects
- Very significant cost reduction in raw materials
- Reduction of material consumption by process optimization
- And to a smaller part, improvement of conversion efficiencies by process optimization.

News about surface plasmonic effects, black silicon and the like are surface every other weak. However they have not inched any closer to production than they were 5 years ago.

Photovoltaic modules are a commodity. The technology and science behind it is of limited depth and not comparable to the semiconductor industry. Look elsewhere if you want to innovate in technology.

What is needed is innovation on the system level, products and marketing.
 

Re:This has got to be the 37th amazing improvement (2, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865975)

For how many decades did it seem like hard drives and CRT displays would never be displaced? They just kept steadily improving the whole time, and no fundamentally different technologies could overtake them - until they did. (Hard drives decreased $/byte by increasing the denominator, whereas PV cells decreased $/watt by decreasing the numerator, does that somehow not count?)

Sure, the vast majority of research comes to nothing. The exceptions are what make it possible for 7 billion people to exist on earth.

Re:This has got to be the 37th amazing improvement (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | 1 year,14 days | (#44866653)

I am certain that it is available now because I have it and not only can you buy it but make it yourself for material cost. I have been studying this and Sadoway at MIT has developed a liquid metal battery that will store charge cheaply and I have developed a method to collect energy cheaply and store it in that battery. I understand that Jan 2014 is when they will be in production and I will have a production device and DIY instructions to collect solar , and wind energy before that. So leave your number and I will call you , oh maybe that was just a phrase, sorry. Sadoway MIT battery [ambri.com]
A video to explain solar thermal and wind collection [moteyenergy.com] The video isn't all that technical, but the principle is sound. My only interest is to see that it is known. So you can buy it or DIY for 0$.
I have no idea how costly solar panels are now, but if they can beat 0, I would be very surprised.

I will believe it when I can buy it (4, Insightful)

Amadodd (620353) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864789)

If I had a dollar for every time a uni came up with a new solar cell. The reality is that most of what you can buy is stil monocrystalline silicone, same as 50 years ago. Why is nothing commercialised?

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44864813)

Big Oil keeps nipping every new development in the bud before it can be commercialized.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865307)

This eventually won't be the case... most oil companies are thought of as being US based, and with anti-US sentiment at a record high, Big Oil is just as reviled.

If the American university doesn't do anything with this development, someone else will, because the world isn't going to want to keep beholden to oil for the indefinite future.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866523)

Yeah thats the spirit! Never let a good Conspiracy Theory go unused when given the opportunity to pull it out.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (5, Informative)

rahvin112 (446269) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865179)

Every one of the inventions is being pulled forward. It is clear you have no idea what's available out there. Thin film is beginning to dominate commercial installation, in fact it's so much better that it's very difficult to even purchase thin films any more because all the production is allocated to commercial installations. Other techniques are out there and being used, the better the cell the more likely it'll be relegated to commercial installation. Most of what's available for retail purchase is the output of older cell lines that are no longer competitive on the commercial side.

Solar is now significantly below $1 a watt and is approaching the point where in commercial installations it's amortized cost is approaching that of coal power. It's already cheaper than nuclear on all fronts.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865447)

As far as "significantly below $1 a watt", do you simply mean the solar panels themselves? Not installation and the support electronics too, right?

Because it sure seems a lot more than that.. Plus, I can currently get $2/watt rebate through my municipal power supply.. But at a solar/green event I went to, I use so little electricity that only after mentioning that was it *maybe* worthwhile for me. I will get an electric car, but I have a relatively short commute, so that won't increase my usage by orders of magnitude or anything.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (3, Interesting)

theIsovist (1348209) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865775)

"But at a solar/green event I went to, I use so little electricity that only after mentioning that was it *maybe* worthwhile for me."

This is a very good point. Homes, individually, don't take too much power, so powering each one of them with it's own generator (solar or otherwise) is redundant and expensive. Maintenance, too, is a pain for the average home owner. So centralizing power generation is great, for the most part. At least until you start factoring in transmission loss. What ideally will happen, and this will take time thanks to the cooperation it requires, is that district power plants will spring up. That a commercial building can produce so much power that it can sell the rest to local houses. You're starting to see this happen, and in the future, hopefully it will happen more. There's other benefits to this approach as well. Say, for instance, you run a massive server farm. This farm produces a lot of heat, and if you can capture this heat, you could use it to power your building and perhaps other neighboring buildings as well. It's an idea that's catching on in Europe and a few places in the US. So maybe solar power on your home isn't going to become viable, but that doesn't mean solar won't be in your future.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866431)

I have 6.2 KW of solar installed. "Maintenance" is spraying the panels with a hose when they get dirty, which is basically never. The occasional rain shower takes of it. My cost was $3.85 a watt, installed (panels, inverters, permits, installation, engineering, labor, everything). My payback, if electricity rates remain flat, is less than 10 years. If rates go up (as they have every year since I started buying electricity), it's sooner.

Before my solar installation, I used 1100 KWH per month on average throughout the year. Everything in my house was electric including water heater, heat and AC, stove, etc. My installation includes a solar thermal water heater, so that number is likely to be closer to 800 KWH per month (time will tell). The 6.2 KW array will come close to zeroing my bill.

Five years ago, the payback would have been more like 15 or 20 years. So tell me again how progress is not being made?

Slashdotters are a lot like frogs in a pot of slowly warming water...they don't realize the water is getting hotter until it's too late.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866437)

Homes, individually, don't take too much power, so powering each one of them with it's own generator (solar or otherwise) is redundant and expensive. Maintenance, too, is a pain for the average home owner. So centralizing power generation is great, for the most part. At least until you start factoring in transmission loss.

I sort of want to agree, but you contradict yourself, so I'll just state this: transmission lines are a huge cost, power loss, and when they fall are a great danger and cause huge problems and loss.

I've personally installed many solar electric systems and they are very cost-effective now. Not to mention the fun of watching the customer giggle when he sees his power meter running backwards.

To this I add: http://www.diverse-energy.com/powercube.php [diverse-energy.com]

Problems solved.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (1)

mlts (1038732) | 1 year,14 days | (#44866737)

The only downside of the Powercube is that the fuel it uses, ammonia, is also one of the primary chemicals used for making meth, so buying ammonia in the quantities required to use it puts someone on a lot of lists.

Solar will not replace the power plant, but it does come into handy during the peak times. What would be a breakthrough would be having research done for a storage medium for solar energy, be it batteries or being able to effectively make/store/use hydrogen.

I wouldn't be surprised to see some battery advances soon. Phone and electronic device makers have to deal with customer demand for more functionality and thinner devices so they are interested in better batteries, and a battery for a cell phone can be scaled up to solar storage batteries.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (1)

snakeplissken (559127) | 1 year,14 days | (#44867301)

Homes, individually, don't take too much power, so powering each one of them with it's own generator (solar or otherwise) is redundant and expensive

perhaps that's true if you try to power the whole of a modern house, but i can see the advantages of every house having survival level power production (of whatever kind) for the house if the grid goes offline, perhaps even local communitys meshing their individual production together to support vital local services - all at 'barely keep it going' levels of course, but in the event of natural disaster or other traumatic event a great boon to social order and life and limb.

but then i've long thought that we (europe/us) took a wrong turn with the internet, centralising it the way we have centralised a lot of other things and then connecting that centralised internet to our centralised grid, gas supply, communications infrastructure etc. one day it will all go wrong, there doesn't need to be an enemy at the gates for that to happen, nothing is perfect forever.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (1)

Bender_ (179208) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865761)

>Every one of the inventions is being pulled forward. It is clear you have no idea what's available out there. Thin film is beginning to dominate commercial installation, >in fact it's so much better that it's very difficult to even purchase thin films any more because all the production is allocated to commercial installations. Other

Bullshit. Most thin film technologies are DOA. There are two technologies that seem to suceed in the market: CdTe and CIGS. However, due to their low conversion efficiency they are only used in big projects. You are not going to see thin film in residential anytime soon. In fact First Solar, thin film market leader, recently acquired a crystalline silicon company to introduce a product in that sector.

>techniques are out there and being used, the better the cell the more likely it'll be relegated to commercial installation. Most of what's available for retail purchase >is the output of older cell lines that are no longer competitive on the commercial side.

It would be nice if market consolidation were drive by technological differentiation, but sadly that is not the case. Older cell lines are only uncompetitive due to bad scaling effects (low throughput, low degree of automation etc.), not due to their cell technology.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (2)

rasmusbr (2186518) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865315)

Because it turns out you can get more bang for your buck by improving the manufacturing of silicon cells than you can get by launching the alternatives that have been tried so far. Monocrystalline silicone is still king when it comes to conversion efficiency and they're no longer particularly expensive, so way go for second or third best?

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865907)

Also, it's better to go for higher-efficiency cells whenever you're using some kind of concentrator since the cost of the cell becomes less relevant and a better cell will give you more output power per area of the concentrator.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (2)

rwise2112 (648849) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865413)

If I had a dollar for every time a uni came up with a new solar cell. The reality is that most of what you can buy is stil monocrystalline silicone, same as 50 years ago. Why is nothing commercialised?

I think could be related to the types of discoveries. Discovery X gives a 10% increase in efficiency, then discovery Y gives a 8% increase, however discovery X is not compatible with discovery Y, so they both can't be used together. Also discovery X will cost 10x as much as discovery Y, so we'll have to go with Y.

I suspect there's a lot of that going on.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (2)

mlts (1038732) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865423)

I've seen some panels that use monocrystalline silicon, then areas of polycrystalline because one is better for sun, one for shade. I've also been seeing polycrystalline panels getting about as much efficiency as the single crystals.

It takes a bit for stuff to go from lab to market. Part of it is testing because solar installations are usually thought of as very long term investments, amortized in the terms of 5, 10, or 20 year increments. So, solar makers tend to be fairly conservative on what they put out.

The solar industry also went through a big shakedown, so they are playing cards close to their chest for fear that their R&D will just end up a target for foreign intruders and wind up on panels being fabbed overseas for pennies on the dollar. With the fact that new R&D doesn't pay off much, at best, we see only incremental improvements in the field.

Where we are seeing improvements are solar charge controllers. MPPT controllers that can use a voltage greater than what the batteries need are almost as cheap as PWM controllers that lop off and don't use anything over what they don't need.

Re:I will believe it when I can buy it (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44867001)

Because Solar-Thermal is so much better than solar cells, manufacturers default for the cheapest stuff to satisfy anyone who wants photovoltaic cells.

Solar cells are already cheap enough (4, Interesting)

msevior (145103) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864845)

While this all great Science, actually solar panels are already cheap enough in many parts of the world. Certainly they are in Australia since we have no tariffs on imported Chinese panels. What is really needed for greater market penetration is cheap storage. It would be great to have a around ~20 KWHr of storage for ~$2000 - $4000. Said storage needs to be stable over around 7000 cycles (20 years of operation) and provide of the order of 4 KW of power on demand. With this in place residential PV systems could provide over 20% of demand in many parts of the world.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864981)

Why would you need storage?
Just sell your power to the grid when you have excess and buy when you have a shortage.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865023)

In some places this isn't possible.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865461)

s/some/most/g

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (4, Insightful)

SJHillman (1966756) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865069)

I can think of a few reasons:
1) This doesn't scale. If we want solar to catch on a massive scale, we need a way to either store it, or a way for a night/cloudy/rainy power source to fill in the gaps
2) A lot of places where solar would be really useful doesn't have grid access to begin with. Many third world areas (IE: large portions of Africa) come to mind, but there's plenty of other places - the US has large swaths of nothingness that could benefit from solar power but don't have grid connections.
3) Portable applications, in which in would be impractical to run a temporary grid connection to it, would do great with some energy storage.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865089)

1. How does it not scale? We can use other sources already used to load balance, like natural gas plants.
2. Those places don't have the money for it anyway.
3. Use solar during day, genset at night. Still cheaper than storage.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (3, Insightful)

SJHillman (1966756) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865211)

1. The idea is to reduce non-renewable sources in favor of renewable sources. The biggest issue facing this in the long run is the need to store the energy as most non-renewable sources are not continuously reliable (wind) or are cyclic (solar, some hydro). Saying you can load balance with a non-renewable resource is a short term solution.

2. Solar is getting pretty cheap, and a lot of places are using it to some degree already. It's not unheard of for poor African villages to use solar to recharge car batteries each day. It's the storage that's the weak link in cases like these moreso than the solar generation.

3. Generators get expensive fast once you consider the indirect costs such as transportation. Also, see 1. Most solutions not involving some kind of energy storage are short term solutions (within the lifetime of people already born).

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865257)

1. yes, I am trying to be reasonable. Ever hear the expression "The perfect is the enemy of good"?

2. If they can't afford li-poly or similar than how would they afford this new stuff?

3. Generators are cheap to transport, you can toss one big enough to run your house in the bed of a pickup truck. You can even use an electric pickup if you want.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865599)

(3) Can we get a battery operated one?

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865665)

Truck? sure.
You can even use the generator to charge it back up.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | 1 year,14 days | (#44867787)

(3) was meant to turn your attention to item '3' of the preceding post - which would reveal the absurdist humor of postulating a battery operated generator

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

mlts (1038732) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865879)

Generators are cheap to transport, but they are relatively expensive to keep running.

Every 40 hours is an oil change. For a small generator, that's about $7.50 a quart for a decent synthetic [1].

Then there is gasoline. For my 3000 watt one, I'd get about eight hours on it if it is fully loaded, and that is from ~3 gallons of gas. So, with gas at $4.00 a gallon, I'd be spending $36.00 a day.

Then, there are other items like air filters and spark plugs. So, for a week of runtime, it would be $40 (guesstimate) for filters and replacement oil, plus 252 for fuel used.

Then there are the other issues of a portable generator, like theft. Those chains look strong, but a thief will just cut the generator handles and be off with the unit, or just tear the places the generator is chained to off the truck bed.

If I'm dry camping way out in the middle of nowhere and need to recharge my RV's batteries, a generator is a no-brainer. However at best, it is a stopgap measure due to the large economies of scale the grid provides.

[1]: Portable generators are splash lubricated which works, but is very hard on the oil, so synthetic is worth the price premium.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (2)

gstoddart (321705) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865087)

Why would you need storage?

Except if we had good storage, we could be completely separated from the grid instead of relying on being able to offload energy we can't use only to have to buy it back later.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865139)

Why would you want to do that?
Why spend a bunch on batteries when the grid is already there? Storing your locally generated power is only worth it if the price to buy power vs the price you sell it at are very far apart.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (2)

gstoddart (321705) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865187)

Or if you have no interest in being connected to the grid and beholden to the power company which can decide to change the rates.

Cottages, remote locations, the developing world ... these are all places where there may not be a grid, or where it may not be practical to connect to it.

Why should you even need to involve the utility in this if what you're looking for is a 100% off-grid solution? They're just middlemen and don't bring anything to the table except a place to store your energy ... if you could do that on your own, you could basically be self sufficient.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (-1, Flamebait)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865237)

You are a Nutbag would be a faster way to cover the first one. Fine, but nutbags normally don't care about price.

If you want to live in the woods, why would you want power? Either you want a unabomber style shack or not, make up your mind.

Yeah, you would be self sufficient, if you were the one making the solar panels and the storage system. If not you have traded one set of vendors for another.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865311)

"If you want to live in the woods, why would you want power?"

If you want to live in the city, why would you want fresh food?
If you want to live in the desert, why would you want water?
If you want to live on a boat, why would you want to stay dry?

I nominate that for the worst argument of the week... and Slashdot has some pretty bad arguments.

I know a guy who lives in the Adirondacks where there are no power lines. He is completely off the grid thanks to solar and wind and a whole bunch of batteries, even in the winter when solar and wind are horrible choices. Satellite allows him to stay completely connected and still live where he wants.

Or we can look at the big blackout a decade ago... or the ice storms every winter... if we weren't on the grid, we could just walk to our neighbors or even run an extension cord to them if our power was down. But with the grid, sometimes our best option is to go completely without power.

It's the difference between trains and cars. Trains are great for population centers, but they quickly become inefficient, expensive, unreliable and inflexible when you try to use them for everyone's personal transportation everywhere. The grid vs personal power is the same way. And if you think everyone should live in the city, then I guess you must *really* hate food.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865371)

Cities are where most people find fresh food, the rest are similar.

If you hated the heat would you move to the south?

You cannot run a house worth of power over an extension cord. Odds are your power system would not survive any better than the grid. I would wager you would be against inspection and regulation as well, but more than happy to have the fire dept rescue you when your uninspected crap burns.

Trains are inflexible, they are not unreliable. I know farmers that live in the city, does that blow your mind? They don't have to be at the farm 24x7 since corn grows unattended.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

mlts (1038732) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865933)

In some parts of the US, getting a utility company to drop a pole can be $10,000 a mile. For the cost of what it would be for a power pole a few miles out, one could buy themselves a good off-grid system with multiple inverters, good storage batteries, decent MPPT charge controllers, and even single axis trackers.

Solar is becoming one of those "why not" things, rather than "why". Even if one just slaps some panels on the south side of their roof, it will help things, either grid-tied to help with the electric bill or off-grid with batteries as a separate electrical circuit for the computer stuff.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

gstoddart (321705) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865327)

You are a Nutbag

And you're an asshole, apparently. Go fuck yourself.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865385)

What an articulate comment. Do you have any other such wisdom to share? Perhaps you can even find a new swear word to try out on us.

By the way, I was not saying the commenter was a nutbag, just the folks who want to live without being reliant on anyone else. It is impossible, unless they can also fab their own solar panels and practice surgery on themselves.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866477)

Thank you slashdot. I knew you were capable of taking a story which is about a completely positive thing--and advance in green energy technology--and turn it into shitstorm/flamewar.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

Wycliffe (116160) | 1 year,14 days | (#44866747)

I agree that it's impossible to not be reliant on other people for some services but that doesn't
mean self-sufficiency is a bad goal. You could easily get to the point where you could go
months or even years without help from the outside world for day to day activities.
I also don't think it's a crazy goal. I actually think the opposite is true. The opposite of
self-sufficiency is dependency. When someone loses their job, house, etc... and then has to
wait for the government to rescue them, companies to create a job for them, etc...
Obviously you can't plan for everything but having the right to own land also gives you the
right to own a means of production so that you are more in control of your own life and have
the ability to buffer the outside world. We've been building houses, saving for retirement, etc...
for thousands of years to protect ourself from the elements that are outside of our control.
Yes, you can go too far but it only makes sense to try to minimize single points of failures and
buffer yourself from events that are outside of your control.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#44869583)

Being Depentant/Relient on Foreign/Domestic on Governments/Corporations typical leads to higher Taxes/Prices.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865703)

If you want to live in the woods, why would you want power?

Because those things are not in any way at odds with each other.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866595)

You were going strong with your counter-solar and anti-off-grid arguments until you had to go ad-hominem.

Going off-grid doesn't mean living like a caveman. There are plenty of people doing this and have the same quality of life as if they had a power pole connected to their place.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

msevior (145103) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865097)

Because where I live you sell to the grid at 8 cents per KWHr (which is actually higher than the wholesale price) and buy from the grid at 25 cents per KWHr. Germany is already in trouble because Solar PV has pushed prices down below zero during peak solar production. ie The intermittent nature of solar is already making the technology hit its limits even though the total agregate solar production integrated over a year in Germany is less than 5% (I think). You beat this with local storage.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865545)

That sounds like your laws need updated. You should be paid the same amount as it costs you to buy power.

How can prices be below zero? Do they charge you to take the power?

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866065)

That sounds like your laws need updated. You should be paid the same amount as it costs you to buy power.

Absolutely not - not with solar. All the solar installations supply power at the same time (lots of sun), so when you are producing power, there is a surplus in the system - the grid doesn't need that much power at that time, so the price goes down. When none of the solar installations produce power (no sun), then of course the price will increase, as there is now a need for more production. Storage is the only solution to that problem, but we do not have economical storage.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44866095)

Then the electric price at that time of day should be very low to buy as well.

I am not suggesting night and day power prices be the same. Only that the power company pay the market price that they charge at that time. Power at night is actually very cheap, in my area at least. This is because of the huge surplus of so many businesses being closed.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#44869633)

Cheaper Renewable Energy as well!

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | 1 year,14 days | (#44867623)

Storage is the only solution to that problem.

Storage is NOT the only solution.

Another solution is demand shifting. Homes and businesses can shift their power needs to off-peak periods. Energy sucking appliances can be programmed to only run when the electricity price falls below a threshold. So you load your clothes dryer, or dishwasher, but they don't run until hours later. Your refrigerator and freezer can pre-chill during off peak hours and coast through peak hours. Businesses can receive incentives to move some of their shifts earlier or later.

Yet another solution is a wider grid, and long distance transmission, so local surpluses can be sold to customers located far away, or even in other timezones.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

FirephoxRising (2033058) | 1 year,13 days | (#44870451)

They should pay you MORE than they charge, they're getting power basically for nothing, no fuel, no maintenance. For storage, what about a big underground flywheel? Spin it up with extra renewable power/cheap grid power and sell it back during peak time with a smart inverter. You get lower bills/a credit and they get load balancing as you're providing power locally where it's needed.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865113)

You need to buy from someone when there is no sun, no wind and no waves. Without storage, that means you need to have 100% capacity from oil, coal and nuclear, so you aren't replacing power plants at all, you're only reducing the amount of fuel they burn some of the time. So without storage, for every kW of solar you install, you must also install a kW of a traditional power source. Solar will never be economical like that. Not unless you think it's acceptable just not to have power some of the time. Even with moderately economical storage, we'd end up in a situation like farmers who are entirely dependent on the weather cooperating with them - an extended period of no sun would again leave us with no power.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865157)

You can drop the oil from that, outside of Hawaii we don't use it for power. Solar thermal can deal with days without light. So install solar thermal along with solar photovoltaic.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, and you are pushing for perfect. When you demand magic storage you are ensuring no solar is rolled out and that we will have to burn fuel all the time.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866001)

You seem to be defining "perfect" as "will not cause regular brownouts". I call that "absolutely minimal requirement to be of any use as primary power source". Thermal solar stores heat temporarily, so that way the power won't go out immediately when the sun sets, but it'll still go out after a while with no sun. That's better, but not good enough to be useful - we will still need close to 100% capacity from classic power sources to make up the load when solar fails. Solar is useful for reducing the amount of dirty fuel burned, that much is true, but without storage it will never replace even a single dirty power plant because solar isn't reliable. So the cost of solar should include the cost of building back-up dirty power plants that can take over when solar fails. That makes solar itself dirty, because it requires burning dirty fuel when it fails, and it makes solar expensive, because it requires building double the capacity. That leaves nuclear as the only clean energy source that is available to us and pretending otherwise only slows down progress towards the only solution there is at the moment.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#44869693)

Nuclear Energy does not stand a chance against SOLAR because Nuclear Energy will go bankrupt by 2030 or less. But if Nuclear plant can be profitable between 2013-2030, and stop closing Nuclear plants because of unprofitablity they would get more support!

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | 1 year,14 days | (#44866131)

FYI they use oil for power in Southern Florida when they get their gas burn forecasts wrong.

They have to tell the pipeline company how much gas they're going to need days ahead of time. The further south the longer ahead of time they have to order their gas. You can't store much gas, oil is more expensive, but it's there.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,14 days | (#44866751)

You can store vast amounts of gas. It might not be cheap to do so however. In Europe they have massive "Gas Ball" storage tanks.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | 1 year,14 days | (#44868279)

They're pretty good at getting their gas burn forecasts right. But when the weather goes crazy they burn oil/export power or flare gas.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865165)

The problem is that power companies don't really make good use of the power they buy from you. It can't be relied upon so they still need the generators anyway and they can produce it much cheaper and don't have to setup the systems for you to flow it back to them. I think it would much more marketable to produce and store your own power & could also tie it into a generator and sell it as a backup system as well. Perhaps instead of each single home, it would be better used for subdivisions of homes, or buildings etc. to get some economy of scale. Maybe back it up with a bloombox and have many self-sustaining communities vs. one giant plant and having to deal with the transmission costs.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

mlts (1038732) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865557)

Both grid-tie systems (selling power to the utility company) and off-grid systems (completely disconnected from mains power) have their benefits and drawbacks.

The nice thing about off-grid power from a properly sized inverter is that you are getting extremely clean power. Essentially this functions similar to a whole-house online (not standby) UPS. This helps prolong the life of virtually any electrical gizmo in the house.

Of course, there are shortcomings. Energy-intensive appliances like HVAC systems, washers, dryers, and others will need to have the panels and the batteries to back those up. The weather can bring issues.

One idea, if one doesn't want to do a grid-tie system, would be to have the big appliances on mains power, the other stuff on off-grid batteries. That way, the computers and other items get the clean power, while the A/C can run fairly cheaply from the grid, and if there are power issues, it might not impact as hard.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866229)

I live in Oregon you insensitive clod. The solar panels have to be in storage (20 years) before we get enough sunlight (thanks climate change!) to use them with enough of a return to be allowed ON the grid at all.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

Bengie (1121981) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865045)

We would countries even want tariffs on importing vast amounts of rare Earth minerals below market value? Let China flood the market. At some point in the future, all of us other countries will have huge stock-piles of China minerals in our land-fills.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865197)

At least in Spain, big utilities have solved the problem in an elegant way: they just bought the lawmakers and made it illegal to have you own storage (battery pack/whatever). They also recently modified the law so that it is no more interesting to have your own solar panels, and they no more pay you to put your excess production on the grid.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865429)

Streaming music is ok, downloading it is not.
Streaming power is ok, downloading it is not.

Oh Spain, the RIAA/MPAA and their international counterparts must love you.

I can't wait for them to only allow you to eat storebought food.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865943)

They also recently modified the law so that it is no more interesting to have your own solar panels

Not sure what you mean by this.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

BranMan (29917) | 1 year,14 days | (#44867149)

I think he means no more subsidies to help homeowners buy PV systems.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865677)

We'll know if they were cheap in about 30 years -- once we find out how well they hold up.

What else have you seen made in China that lasted that well, with such quality control?

Time will tell whether they're cheap, or not.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865745)

In some parts of Mexico, electricity is 40 cents per kilowatt-hour, which would mean that running a 1500w A/C for a day would be around $14.00. Of course, sun availability is not an issue there, so storage batteries in a lot of places would be immensely useful.

Energy storage is where improvements need to be made. If we could get a storage cell that is within an order of magnitude of gasoline, it would utterly change things (vehicles could move to electric motors completely, etc.)

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

Flere Imsaho (786612) | 1 year,14 days | (#44867447)

Cool. Let's stop trying to improve on existing technology then. All those people living in less fortunate countries than Australia and trying to get by on a few dollars a day? Fuck 'em, I can afford the existing tech, that's all that matters. As long as the Chinese don't mind destroying their environment and paying shit wages so I can have cheap imports, I'm happy.

Re:Solar cells are already cheap enough (1)

godel_56 (1287256) | 1 year,14 days | (#44867835)

While this all great Science, actually solar panels are already cheap enough in many parts of the world. Certainly they are in Australia since we have no tariffs on imported Chinese panels. What is really needed for greater market penetration is cheap storage. It would be great to have a around ~20 KWHr of storage for ~$2000 - $4000. Said storage needs to be stable over around 7000 cycles (20 years of operation) and provide of the order of 4 KW of power on demand. With this in place residential PV systems could provide over 20% of demand in many parts of the world.

This might be what you've been waiting for, but we still have to actually see it on the commercial market.

http://www.gizmag.com/iron-air-battery/23646/

This cheaper iron electrode is driving costs down significantly, and the researchers are targeting an aggressive $100 per kWh for their batteries. For reference, research firm Lux Research puts the cost of lithium-ion batteries at roughly around $600/kWh and says their cost will decrease quite slowly, dropping below the $400/kWh mark no earlier than in 2020.

Is it just me? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864945)

Or does anyone else think "plasmonic nanostructures" would be a great name for a band?

Re:Is it just me? (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | 1 year,14 days | (#44866155)

Plasmatics was already taken.

Your fans will expect you to show-up with a chainsaw and kill yourself on your 30th birthday.

Plasmonic What? (0)

interval1066 (668936) | 1 year,14 days | (#44864957)

My wife keeps complaining about my plasmonic nanostructure.

I'll be here all week, ladies and germs.

How to make cheap solar power from gold? (2)

presidenteloco (659168) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865201)

Isn't gold a little bit, um, expensive?

Could these gold nano-whatchamacallits be done for a grand total of less than $1 a watt which is about the current price of PV?

Re:How to make cheap solar power from gold? (1)

sheepe2004 (1029824) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865713)

No because they are *nano* structures, the amount of gold used is incredibly small.

Re: incredibly small (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | 1 year,14 days | (#44866271)

per area multiplied by a large area.

Does anyone have any notiion of how much gold per square meter would be needed for production solar panels based on this technology?

Bear in mind that one of the enthusiasm dampeners about PEM fuel cells is that they currently use Platinum / Palladium which are expensive and limited in supply.

Re: incredibly small (1)

sheepe2004 (1029824) | 1 year,14 days | (#44867763)

But they are nanometres thick as well. Say the structures are ~30nm high and assume that half the surface is covered in gold for the sake of simplicity. Then the volume of gold per m**2 is 15e-9 (m**3) = 0.015 (cm**3)

Density of gold is approx 19.30 g cm**-3 [wikipedia.org] so it needs ~0.3g to make 1 m**2 of material.

Price of gold is around $40/g [goldprice.org] so that's about $12 per metre squared of material.

I had trouble finding reliable estimates of current prices but they seem to be in the range $300-$1500 per square metre. So if the gold can make it perform better it is certainly worth it.

Re:How to make cheap solar power from gold? (1)

elashish14 (1302231) | 1 year,13 days | (#44868885)

You'd be surprised at the amount of things precious metals find themselves in. Gold is a great conductor, just like copper and silver (in fact, if it weren't a good conductor, well, it wouldn't be gold), and sometimes it's very useful for certain electrical/optical/electro-optic applications. I can't confirm any of these factually, but I imagine that gold is present in a lot of electronic and optical devices, including microprocessors and certain kinds of sensors, biosensors in particular. The fact that it's used it small quantities is what makes it viable.

On the other hand, people have studied plasmonics to death in all kinds of applications (especially solar), and have never/rarely made it viable. The promise of plasmonics has been heralded over and over, and theorists love them, but it's one of those things that can just never/rarely be actually used in practice. So I'm very skeptical of this article - it may well be just a small group of academics trying to toot their horn for more publicity and grant money.

I For One (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44865483)

welcome our new plasmonic overlords.

Where is all the past technology? (1)

lowkster (546516) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865749)

It would be interesting to catalog all of Slashdots 'incredible solar tech invented!' stories from 20010 and see how much of it actually made it into solar panels and exactly how much it actually improved them. Could also do the same for medical "break throughs".

Technology filter needed. (1)

dicobalt (1536225) | 1 year,14 days | (#44865793)

Anything that isn't being researched in a way to allow manufacturing might as well not even exist.

Some evidence of that's happened in last 4 years (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44866583)

This article is about a man who spent $42,500 (before subsidies) to have a solar system installed 4 years ago. His system has generated 15,000 KWH in 4 years, or about 10 KWH per day.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/14/solar-panels-government-waste/2653717/

The system I just purchased cost me $23,780 (before subsidies). It's a 6.2 KW system. So far it generates an average of 20 KWH per day.

So, normalizing the parameters, he spent $4250 for each KWH his system can generate per day. I spent $1193. So tell me how that's not progress.

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